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Cambodia – Knowledge of the language of the people is indispensable for a missionary

09 November 2017

(ANS – Poipet) – “I never really thought of becoming a missionary because I did not feel confident that I could overcome the difficulties I would face in a mission land. I left it to the others to go to the missions.” Fr Mark Yang, a Korean Salesian, admitted candidly. Yet today he is fully convinced of his choice to leave as a missionary and devote his life to the young people of Cambodia.

 

When I was a deacon, I went to Cambodia for a short-term volunteer work with some Korean students. We were at Phnom Penh's Don Bosco technical school. At that time I said to myself that I was there just to take care of my students. Over a few days of work I noticed that I hardly met any of the Salesians in the school. I realized that there were only a few confreres in Cambodia, where there were many young Khmers who needed them. I came across many poor young people in trouble. A thought flashed through my mind, that perhaps I was needed more in Cambodia than in Korea. I felt that the Korean province would not suffer from my absence because there were many confreres there. I do not think my missionary passion was just a sudden impulse. It is, indeed, natural to feel like helping people in trouble only when they are right in front of us. That was not my case. I felt the missionary call over three and a half years. It was only then that I took a decision and wrote to the Rector Major offering myself to be a mission-ary.

My biggest challenge is the Khmer language. I realize that if I do not speak it correctly I will be just like any other staff of an NGO, not really a missionary. The local language is an essential factor in proclaiming the Gospel. Without it, our proclamation is very limited. With English I can run a school like a business and communicate with my confreres. To share my experience of the Faith with the Khmer youth, I need to use their language. My greatest joy is to stay with these young people, share their lives and meet my God in Khmer people.

When we think of missionary life we are likely to imagine too many diffi-culties in a strange land. We are tempted to avoid becoming a mission-ary. We cannot really anticipate the difficulties we will encounter. No one becomes a missionary because he is sure he will overcome all challenges. As a missionary, I have learned to place my trust totally in God. I also understand that, though we all wear the same jackets from the local culture, our missionary communities are international. I must accept also the culture of my fellow missionaries. It is important to have a mind that is receptive to various cultures. This also implies openness to the cultures of the other confreres in the community. When there is mutual openness, there is interculturality in the community and we become more credible witnesses of Jesus!

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